Kalinga & Buddhism

Kalinga & Buddhism

“Buddhism became a world religion only after Kalinga-Asoka war and because of the vast maritime trade route of Kalinga”

And all these happen only after 200 years of the Maparinirvana of Lord Buddha at Kushinagar. The great Kalinga war dated 261 B.C. (which became a turning point in world history) saw millions sacrificed lives defending their Motherland which ultimately changed Chandasoka to Dhammasoka, hence making him a messiah of peace and harmony worldwide. First time in world history, a conqueror get conquered by Dhamma, Ahimsa & Satya and became the patron of the tenets of Buddha across the world. This is the major contribution of Odisha( Kalinga) in shaping the socio-cultural map of several countries in South East Asia, Far East and Sri Lanka.

But association of Buddhism with Kalinga started during the life of Lord Buddha itself. According to the Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya, Lord Buddha’s first disciples, Tapusa and Bhallika, were honey traders from Ukkala (Odisha had several names in the past- Kalinga, Odra & Ukkala). On their way to Madhyadesa with 500 carts, they met the Buddha on the last day of the seventh week after his enlightenment at Bodhgaya. They offered him rice-cake and honey. The Buddha gave them eight handfuls of his hair, which they later deposited in a stupa in their native Ukkala. The stupa came to be known as Kesa Stupa (kesa meaning `hair'). The recent excavation at Tarapur in Jajpur district of Odisha has led to the identification of the Kesa Stupa. It has also been discovered that the stupa was built with a donation from Bhikhu Tapusa. The Buddhist texts say that the Kesa stupa is the earliest stupa. Two pillars, discovered at the site, carry the inscriptions `Kesa Thupa' and `Bheku Tapusa Danam‘. It is now presumed that the place was a centre of attraction as early as the lifetime of the Buddha and that the Buddha visited the locality on the invitation of Tapusa and Bhallika, his first disciples.

KALINGA: Contribution in world trade & culture

Situated on the shore of the Bay of Bengal, ancient Kalinga once comprised the coastal regions of modern Odisha and the adjacent coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh and Bengal as well. Owing to its location between the two great East Indian deltaic regions of the Ganges and the Krishna and Godavari rivers, Kalinga itself had two distinct historical core areas in the delta regions of the Mahanadi in Central Odisha, and further to Southwest, of the Rishikulya and Vamsadhara rivers in Southern Odisha and Northwestern Andhra Pradesh. The earliest historically known centre of Kalinga was at Toshali and Kalinganagara (Sisupalgarh) near Bhubaneswar, the respective capitals of Ashoka and Kharavela in the third and first centuries B.C. It was most likely this central Odishan core area under Kharavela’s successors to which the Roman geographer Pliny referred in the first century A.D.

The Roman geographer Pliny writes: “The royal city of Calingae is Parthalis (Toshali). Over their kingdom 60,000 foot soldiers, 1000 horsemen, 700 elephants keep watch and ward in precinct of war.”

However, in the Buddhist Jataka stories of the fourth and third centuries B.C., a kingdom of Kalinga is mentioned with Dantapura as its capital. From Dantapura, the most venerated relic of Buddhism, Buddha’s tooth, was brought to Sri Lanka. This tradition forms the basis of a lasting relationship between Kalinga and Sri Lanka

The historical geography changed considerably in the post-Gupta period with the rise of several small independent kingdoms on the Eastern shores of India. Thus, in the 7th century AD,the Chinese monk Xuanzang (Huien Tsang) clearly distinguished three coastal regions. U-cha (Odra=Central Odisha), Kong-u-T’o (Kangoda, the present Ganjam district) and Kie-ling-kia ( Kalinga). Whereas Northen and Central Odisha henceforth known as Odra and Utkal. Kalinga comprised coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh. Since the sixth century, the Vamsadhara estuary in Srikakulam district became the nucleus area of the Eastern Ganga dynasty with Kalinganagara and Kalingapatna, as its capital and harbour respectively.

Early kingdoms of Eastern India had their own port towns. Among the ports of ancient Odisha/Kalinga are Palura and Chelitalo, mentioned respectively by Greek geographer Ptolemy and Xuanzang (Huien Tsang) in the second century AD and seventh century AD. According to Ptolemy, there was a place near Palur, called Apheterion, the “point of departure” for ships bound to Chryse, the “Golden Land”, the “ Suvarnabhumi” of South East Asia.

About Chelitalo in U-cha (Central Orissa) Xuan Xang writes, “Here it is merchants depart for distant countries, and strangers come and go and stop here on their way. The walls of the city are strong and lofty. Here are found all sorts of rare and precious articles.”

During these early centuries A.D., Kalinga’s importance for trans-Asian maritime trade seems to have been strengthened by the fact that in the early centuries A.D. even large vessels usually did not yet cross the Bay of Bengal directly from Sri Lanka to Southeast Asia. Instead, they proceeded up to Palura and Chelitalo from which points they crossed the ocean for Survarnabhumi.

Kalinga’s importance and association with the Bay of Bengal is confirmed by Kalidasa (C. 400 A.D.) who praised the King of Kalinga as “ Lord of the Ocean” (Mahodadhipati) in Raghuvamsa and in the late eighth century by the Buddhist text Manjusrimulakalpa, which refers to all the islands in the “Kalinga Sea” (Kalingodra).

During these centuries, traders, Buddhist monks and Brahmins of Kalinga traveled to, and sometimes settled in the countries of Southeast Asia. An inscription from East Java even mentioned Kalinganagara, indicating perhaps a “colony” of traders from Kalinga. Early legends of Java mentions that “twenty thousand families were sent to Java by the prince of Klinga. These people prospered and multiplied.”

Odisha’s monasteries of Ratnagiri, Lalitgiri and Udayagiri produced veritable masterpieces of Buddhist Art which might have influenced contemporary schools of Buddhist Art in South East Asia, particularly in Java under the Sailendra dynasty. Odishan architecture of the ninth and tenth centuries appears to have played an important role in the development of Mon architecture in Lower Burma.

The fabulous wealth of Southeast Asia had attracted the sailors and merchants of Kalinga. It had its impact on the folklore of Odisha. The Tapoi story, popular in every household of Odisha, evokes the memory of sea voyages to distant land. It is the irony of history that the great maritime tradition has been reduced to the ritual of sailing tiny boats on the Kartika Purnima day.

Buddhist legacy of Kalinga (Odisha)

  • Lord Buddha’s first disciples, Tapusa and Bhallika, were from Ukkala (Kalinga), as per Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya
  • KALINGA-ASHOKA war took place at Dhauligiri near Bhubaneshwar, the capital city of Odisha after which Asoka renounced violence and spread Buddhism across world through maritime trade route of Kalinga. A huge peace pagoda (Shanti Stupa) was built at the site of Dhauligiri in 1972 jointly by the Japan Buddha Sangha and the Kalinga Nippon Buddha Sangh to commemorate Kalinga war. A set of Rock Edicts containing eleven out of the well known fourteen Rock Edicts of Asoka (BC. 273-236) written in the language of Magadhi Prakrita and the early Brahmi script was discovered at Dhauligiri in 1837.
  • Famous Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang (Huien Tsang) who visited Odisha in 639 CE, found more than hundred Buddhist monasteries in Central Odisha (comprising of Jajpur, Kendrapara and Cuttack districts) which he elaborately mentioned in his travelogue. Prominent among them was “Kesha Stupa” of Tarapur, Asokan Stupas of Langudi hills and monasteries of Mahayana & Vajrayana cult at Ratnagiri, Udayagiri, Lalitgiri and Puspagiri. Here, one could observe the evolution of Buddhism from the Theravada sect with its austere and plain worship of a stupa to the growth of Mahayana and Vajrayana (tantric) sects with their elaborate pantheon of Bodhisattvas and other deities. Sacred relic casket was excavated at Lalitgiri Monastery and is currently under the custody of Archaeological Survey of India( ASI) in Odisha State Museum.
  • In the 8th century AD, Subhakara Simha, probably a prince of the Bhaumakara family of Odisha, accepted Buddhism and went to China and visited Emperor Xuan Zung of the Tang dynasty. He introduced esoteric Buddhism in China and translated the Maha Vairochana Sutra into Chinese in 716 A.D.
  • In 795 AD, a famous Buddhist monk ‘Prajna’, went to China with the autographed manuscript of “Gandavyuha” and presented it to the Chinese emperor. He was considered to be the first cultural ambassador of Bhauma King of Odisha in the 8th century AD.
  • Kalinga to Sri Lanka- Journey of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha: According to Dhatu Vamsa the king of Kalinga, Guhasiva, who was worshipping the sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha apprehending danger from ‘Pandu’ a Magadha king send the Tooth to Sri Lanka secretly through his daughter Hemamala and son-in-law Dantakumara from his capital city “Dantapura” to be delivered to his friend Mahasena, the ruler of Buddhist kingdom of Lanka. They reached Annuradhapura and handed over to king Maghavanna (310 A.D.) the son of Mahasena.

Early Kingdoms of East India possessed their own port towns. Some of the ports of ancient Orissa/Kalinga were Palura and Chelitalo as mentioned by Ptolemy in the second century A.D. and by Xuan Xang and seventh century A.D.

Palura, mentioned by the Greek geographer Ptolemy in the second century A.D. and in a South Indian inscription of the third century, was an internationally important emporium further to the Southwest, most likely at the Rishikulya estuary or nearby, on the Southern elongation of Chilika Lake, whereas village known as Palur still exists today. As mentioned by Ptolemy, a place near Palur, named as Apheterion, the “point of departure” for ships bound to Chryse, the “Suvarnabhumi” (the “Golden Land”) of South East Asia. It is quite likely that the prominent hillock South of the present village Palur, which in fact, is the highest peak on the coast up to the mouth of the Ganges, and which was known to the Portuguese of the sixteenth century as Serra de Palura served as a landmark for early seafarers in the Bay of Bengal.

Xuan Xang wrote about Chelitalo in U-cha (Central Orissa), “Here it is merchants depart for distant countries, and strangers come and go and stop here on their way. The walls of the city are strong and lofty. Here are found all sorts of rare and precious articles.”

During those centuries, Kalinga was so paramount for trans-Asian maritime trade that even large vessels generally did not cross the Bay of Bengal directly from Sri Lanka to Southeast Asia. They went on up to Palura and Chelitalo from where they crossed the ocean for the Survarnabhumi.

During these early centuries AD, traders, Buddhist monks and Kalinga Brahmins traveled to various countries of Southeast Asia, and sometimes settled there. As per an inscription from East Java, there was Kalinganagara that referred to a “colony” of Kalinga traders.

The trace of Buddhism in Orissa takes you to the ancient period as old as the day when two merchants Tapusa and Bhallika from Ukkala (Kalinga) became Lord Buddha’s first disciples, as per the Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya.

As per the Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya, two merchants from Ukkala – Tapusa and Bhallika -- became the first disciples of the Buddha. They met the Buddha on the last day of the seventh week after his enlightenment at Bodhgaya when they were on their way to Madhyadesa with 500 carts. They offered Buddha rice cake and honey in return of eight handfuls of his hairs he gave to them. The merchants returned to their native place Ukkala where they deposited the heirs in a stupa (Kesa Stupa). The place is considered to have been a centre of attraction from the lifetime of the Buddha and the Buddha made a visit to the place on the invitation of Tapusa and Bhallika.

As mentioned in Dhatu Vamsa, the king of Kalinga, Guhasiva, who used to worship the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha, secretly sent the Tooth to Sri Lanka from his capital city “Dantapura”, through his daughter Hemamala and son-in-law Dantakumara. He did this apprehending danger from ‘Pandu’, a Magadha king. The tooth was to be delivered to the Kalinga king’s friend Mahasena, the ruler of Buddhist kingdom of Lanka. After reaching Annuradhapura, they handed over it to king Maghavanna (310 A.D.), the son of Mahasena.

Ancient Odisha, located on the shore of Bay of Bengal, encompassed the coastal areas of modern Odisha and the adjacent coastal districts of the states of Andhra Pradesh and Bengal. Helped by its location between the two great eastern Indian deltaic regions of the Ganges and the Krishna and Godavari rivers, Kalinga itself possessed two distinctive historical core areas in the delta regions of the Mahanadi in Central Odisha and further to the southeast of the Rushikulya and Vansadhara rivers in southern Odisha and northern Andhra Pradesh.